LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The union for striking Hollywood screenwriters said on Tuesday it had decided to spare next month's Grammy Awards from picketing that could dampen the recording industry's highest honors.
The announcement by the Writers Guild of America marked a surprise reversal from the union's previous stance that it would likely picket the Grammy show, slated for a live telecast on February 10 from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Writers Guild leaders said the decision, approved by the WGA's governing board, was "made on behalf of our brothers and sisters" in two unions that represent musical performers and had sought a strike "waiver" for the Grammys.
The move was welcomed by those unions, as well as by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which sponsors the Grammys, and CBS, which will carry the telecast.
"We are gratified that the 50th annual Grammy Awards will focus solely on the great music, artists and charitable work resulting from our show," academy spokesman Neil Portnow said.
The Writers Guild has been using the threat of picketing of major entertainment awards venues to draw attention to its cause and to press major film and TV studios to renew negotiations aimed at settling the union's 11-week-old strike.
The Grammy decision came as the WGA and studios announced they would open "informal discussions" on Wednesday aimed at paving the way for a resumption of official contract talks that collapsed on December 7. The two sides have not met since then.
In giving the Grammys a pass, the striking writers cleared the way for the show to go on without the spectacle of stars having to cross picket lines. It was not clear whether union writers would still be barred from working on the show.
A number of high-profile Grammy nominees this year, including Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and Alicia Keys, are also members of the WGA's sister union for TV and movie performers, the Screen Actors Guild.
It was the threat of an awards boycott by SAG members that derailed the Golden Globe Awards earlier this month, forcing organizers to scrap their traditional gala event in favor of a bare-bones news conference to announce winners.
But with the principal talent unions for recording stars poised to openly break ranks with the Writers Guild and SAG, it was doubtful a Grammy boycott would have gathered much steam. Beyonce's father and manager last week issued a statement saying she planned to participate in the music awards.
The prospect of WGA picketing still hangs over the film industry's most prestigious honors, the Oscars, whose organizers vow to go on with some form of their ceremony as scheduled on February 24.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and David Wiessler